Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (10-5) vs Pittsburgh Panthers (13-1)
The Time: 7:00 pm EST
The Location: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
TV/Radio: ESPN3, 105.7 FM
The Backstory: The Maryland Terrapins head into this game on a hot streak. After a disappointing home loss against Boston University, Maryland has rattled off three straight victories against Tulsa, North Carolina Central, and finally their second ACC victory, this time over Georgia Tech. Best of all, their ACC game, a 77-61 win, may have been their best performance of the season to date.
Maryland put together a phenomenal defensive performance, and held the Yellow Jackets to under 40% shooting (their third straight performance) and 26% from deep. Despite being outrebounded, the Terps were able to coax a nice performance out of Nick Faust (who had 16 points and four three pointers) to come out on top. Faust, who had struggled all year long with his deep ball, has thrived in his role off the bench and even more so with the return of Seth Allen.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are also riding a three game win streak and out for what will essentially be considered a signature win over the Terps. Pittsburgh has one of the best records in the NCAA at 13-1, but the issue is that they haven’t played anyone and when they finally did (against Cincinnati), the results weren’t pretty and ended up in an L.
Still, Jamie Dixon and company are ready to give Maryland all they’ve got. Led by seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, the Panthers are formidable and full of athletes. They move the ball well and shoot even better. Can Maryland pounce on the Panthers early? Let’s find out…
Three things to know about the Panthers
1.) They haven’t played anyone
I’m sorry, but please excuse me if the only reason I’m concerned about the Panthers is because this is a road game. The Panthers haven’t played a single quality opponent so far this season, and while they may definitely be better than the Terps, how am I or anyone else supposed to know that? Jamie Dixon, year after year, schedules cream puffs so his team looks good heading into conference play. It isn’t a bad strategy, but it gives us a completely skewed data set to work with when gauging his team.
I tried to watch some of their game against Cincy and I had to turn it off. Both teams were so terrible it wasn’t worth looking into much further. Then again, I have a hard time considering any team particularly terrible without a few more sample sets. The only ones I’ve got are against Penn State and Cincinnati. We need more to know what Pitt is actually capable of.
2.) That said, they handled North Carolina State, and on the road
Their last game should give everyone pause. If there were anything to suggest that this team may actually be a Top 25-caliber squad, it’s that victory. The Wolfpack are far from world beaters, but T.J. Warren is pretty nuts and they still gave him fits. Holding them to 10 percentage points lower than their standard shooting percentage means you played some strong D, and it’s even better that they did it on the road.
The game may have been a clear case of matchup problems, but it was also very indicative of how effective Pitt is when they play basketball. The Panthers don’t like to play sloppy and they don’t like to take bad shots, so while they may not rebound incredibly well, they don’t need to considering how efficient the play. Beating State can be looked at as just that, beating State. Or it could be a glimpse at Pitt’s true potential.
3.) Lamar Patterson is as talented as they come, but after that Pitt might have some problems scoring
I’m thoroughly impressed with Patterson, and that makes sense considering he’s been in college since the Paleozoic era. His game is refined, so to speak, and Patterson doesn’t make a ton of mistakes with the ball. He’s got over a 2/1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and his efficiency rating is a gargantuan 19.71. Patterson is the best player on the Panthers by far, and his efficiency (especially that 64.8 true shooting percentage) will be difficult for Maryland.
That said, if Maryland can contain him or hone in on some of the other Pitt players, they should dominate this team. Talib Zanna is solid, but he’s rarely going to score more than 13 points at his best, and Cameron Wright is just as likely to shoot his team out of a game as he is to lead the way. Maryland stops the role guys and let’s the superstar go to work, they can pick up a win.
When I look at a game I usually look at three things. The first is who the home team is. In this instance, it’s Pitt. Given that Maryland is like nearly every college team and doesn’t win much on the road, I automatically don’t like their chances. Pitt is 13-1 and hot, so I’m not enjoying the Terps odds and that 9 point dog status much.
The second thing I look at is which team has the best player, and the best five players after that. Pitt has the best player on the floor in Lamar Patterson, by far. Fortunately, Maryland has the slight edge with the next five. Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz, Nick Faust, and Roddy Peters are, statistically, better and more efficient players than Pitt’s next five (Zanna, Wright, Robinson, Young, and Johnson — in that order). That one is a push, really. Maryland is more deep, sure, but Pitt has someone playing at an incredibly high level.
The third thing I look at is Vegas and my gut on the game. Vegas has the Terps as major underdogs at +9, and my gut tells me Maryland doesn’t win on the road. That said, I think +9 is a bit generous towards Pitt, so I think the game will be closer than that. Nonetheless, Maryland has trouble on the road, and I can’t see them winning against a hot Pitt team even if they might let up for a little.